NFL

NFL AM: Sorting Things Out at the Wide Receiver Postion

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In the spirit of this weekend’s premiere of Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, the NFL’s resident Dark Knight Josh Norman was making the media rounds on Friday and he named some of his own personal Supermen at the wide receiver position.

Appearing on NFL Network’s Total Access, Norman was asked to name his Top 5 Wide Receivers and began his list with two guys that certainly belong, Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones and Pittsburgh Steelers wideout Antonio Brown. Then the wheels sort of came off.

Norman gave some love to his teammate Kelvin Benjamin, who missed all of the 2015 season with a torn ACL and while Benjamin is a supreme talent, he doesn’t belong anywhere near this list until he shows what he can do upon his return. Norman then went on to name Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant, who many felt was on his way to the top of the list before an injury-plagued 2015 season derailed him. Dez too will have to show something in 2016 to secure his spot in Top 5. Rounding out Norman’s list was Cincinnati Bengals wideout A.J. Green, another outstanding talent, who had a great bounce back campaign in 2015 to put him back on the fringe of this conversation.

Conspicuous in his absence from this list was the Joker to Norman’s Batman, New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. , who memorably battled Norman late in the 2015 season. The Panthers cornerback was of course quizzed on Beckham’s absence and responded in classic Dark Knight fashion.

“This is my top five, alright? I don’t know if he would put me on his — I really don’t care — but this is my top five,” Norman said. “So this is what I see. If he wants to get up there, do something to show me. Shoot, man, I played it, I saw it. I don’t know, I just didn’t think that. But he’s working there. I think he’s definitely a top 10. He’s working in the top-five bracket. Maybe if I play him again, he’ll show me different.”

Later, Norman went on to call merely “ok” in an appearance on ESPN’s SportsNation before shooting down the idea that he thought Beckham was over-hyped or overrated.

“I don’t think nobody gets ‘too much love’ if the put in the time and the effort, and go out there and put in the numbers each and every week,” Norman told ESPN’s Michelle Beadle. “I don’t think nobody does that by mistake. His numbers is what it is and he gets the love for it. He’s in the Big Apple, so of course that’ll get you all that and then some.”

This didn’t sit well with Beckham, who wasted little time responding via Twitter.

Norman refrained from responding on live TV, but after leaving the set of SportsNation, logged in to answer Beckham’s subtweet.

This beef is sure to wage on, mostly through verbal barbs as the Panthers and Giants don’t meet during the 2016 NFL regular season. But there’s another receiver who should have an even bigger beef with Norman’s list and that’s Houston Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins.

Over the past two seasons, Hopkins has emerged as one of the NFL’s most elite talents at the position, posting gaudy numbers and making clutch catches. That he did it while catching passes from the likes of Ryan Mallett, T.J. Yates, Brandon Weeden and Brian Hoyer make his accomplishment that much more impressive. With Brock Osweiler now in place at the top of Houston’s quarterback depth chart, 2016 could be the year Hopkins ascends to the top of this list.

Calvin Johnson’s retirement from the league clears a spot at the top of this list that had been held by Megatron for the better part of a decade. Right now, Jones and Brown are right up there, with Hopkins close behind. The fourth and fifth spots are certainly up for debate. Based on recent statistics, if you want to include Beckham, you’d also have to include New York’s other No. 1 wide receiver Brandon Marshall. The Jets wideout somewhat quietly posted a 1,500-yard, 14-touchdown season in 2015 at the age of 31 last season and appears to still have plenty left in the tank. Bryant, Green and Demaryius Thomas certainly have arguments as well, though we’ll have to see how the latter does with a messy quarterback situation in Denver this coming season.

Beyond that veteran trio, there are a pair of young guns out of the Sunshine State poised to join the party in Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans and Jacksonville’s Allen Robinson. Evans has begun his career with consecutive 1,000-yard seasons and merits more attention while Robinson burst onto the scene in 2015 after a modest rookie season and declared himself as one of the league’s best up-and-coming talents at the position. Oakland’s Amari Cooper could also make his way into the conversation with a strong sophomore season.

For now, who needs a Top 5? We’re set on a Top 3: Jones, Brown and Hopkins. The rest of them fall somewhere in the Top 10. Of course, that’s all likely to change once the 2016 season begins in a few months.

LOWER TIER WIDEOUTS FIND NEW HOMES

While other positions saw premier talent find new homes this offseason, the wide receiver position didn’t see any studs hit the market after the Chicago Bears placed the franchise tag on Alshon Jeffery.

Marvin Jones was probably the best available talent and he landed in Detroit to try and fill the big shoes of the retired Calvin Johnson. But most of the other free agent wideouts were complementary players.

Signings continued to trickle in this week though, with three wide receivers landing in new spots.

Chief among them was Nate Washington, an 11-year veteran who signed on to join the New England Patriots. There, Washington may get a chance to replace the departed Brandon LaFell, who had a somewhat disappointing 2015 campaign. Washington remains a productive player. He hauled in 47 passes for over 650 yards in 14 starts with Houston last year and is the kind of veteran player Tom Brady likes to have in his huddle. New England also added Chris Hogan from Buffalo this offseason, giving Brady a pair of new weapons to team with mainstays Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski.

The Philadelphia Eagles also made some wide receiver news this week, inking former New York Giants receiver Reuben Randle to a one-year deal. Randle was a bit of a bust over his four years in New York after being selected in the second round of the 2012 Draft. He never had a 1,000-yard season and was known more for his drops than his catches.

Randle will look to pen a new narrative for himself in Philly, where there is still no clear cut No. 1 wide receiver. Jordan Matthews led the team in receptions last season, but fell short of 1,000 yards again. Behind Matthews in receptions were tight ends Zach Ertz and Brent Celek and running backs Darren Sproles and DeMarco Murray, showcasing how light the talent in Philly is at the wide receiver position. The Eagles were hoping for more out of first round pick Nelson Agholor and 2014 third rounder Josh Huff, but it didn’t happen in 2015. They also cut Riley Cooper this offseason, leaving plenty of opportunity for Randle if he can seize it.

Rounding out the group of wideouts to find new homes this week was former Jets slot receiver Jeremy Kerley, who landed in Detroit, where he’ll team with Marvin Jones and Golden Tate in an effort to somehow replace the production lost with Calvin Johnson gone. Kerley was also a solid return man for the Jets, a role he likely will also fill in Detroit.

Those three signings thinned out the free agent market at wide receiver. But some big names remain.

Topping the list is 13-year veteran Anquan Boldin, who is still unsure what his future holds. The 35-year-old spent the last three seasons in San Francisco and last year hauled in 69 passes for 789 yards despite a shaky quarterback situation, and is one-year removed from two consecutive 80+ catch, 1,000-yard seasons. He could likely still offer stability to a team in need of a solid No. 2 option and comes with the bonus of veteran leadership, but the situation would likely have to be right and present Boldin with an opportunity to compete for a ring.

Beyond Boldin, there are bunch more veterans, with Roddy White, Andre Johnson, Malcolm Floyd and Marques Colston among others still looking for work. Many of those players will likely find spots after the draft next month infuses a slew of new talent into the league at the wide receiver position. That just goes to show that it’s not just the running back position that’s tossing aside its most veteran players in favor of new models, as has been hypothesized. It’s still a young man’s game no matter what position you play.


About Devon Jeffreys

Devon Jeffreys